With teachers, new security, N Carolina legislature opens

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RALEIGH, N.C. (AP) — The North Carolina General Assembly convened its annual work session Wednesday amid thousands of teachers descending on the Legislative Building to lobby for more school funding and higher salaries.

The gavels fell on House and Senate floor meetings around midday during a day dominated by a morning march by teachers and their allies through downtown Raleigh, followed by an afternoon rally in front of the building that featured a speech by Democratic Gov. Roy Cooper. Teachers clad in red filled the House and Senate galleries during the floor gatherings, with little disruption.

The day also was marked by long but steady lines at the front and rear entrances of the Legislative Building, where session crowds met an array of permanent metal detectors and bag scanners for the first time. The new machines and staff operating them are part of $1.3 million in security upgrades to the 55-year-old building.

Legislators spent time meeting with teachers, lobbyists and other visitors on the opening day of a session likely to wrap up before July 4. The chief job for the GOP-controlled legislature will be to adjust the second year of the two-year state government budget.

Legislation addressing school and prison safety, unregulated contaminants in drinking water supplies like GenX and proposed constitutional amendments are likely to get attention from House and Senate Republicans.

Wednesday also marked the seating of new Sen. Toby Fitch, a Wilson County Democrat who is filling out the term of former Sen. Angela Bryant. She resigned in March to join the state parole commission.

Fitch, who recently retired as a Superior Court judge, was a major powerbroker in the House during the 1990s and early 2000s. He was the first black legislator elected as House majority leader. Fitch is running against a Republican in November for a two-year term in the 4th Senate District covering Halifax, Edgecombe and Wilson counties.

The opening came a week after primary elections in which eight incumbents lost races for their current seats. They included Rep. Justin Burr, a Stanly County Republican and chief supporter of a judicial redistricting bill, and Rep. Duane Hall, a Wake County Democrat dogged by sexual misconduct allegations. Hall has strongly denied the accusations.

Nearly 40 bills were filed Wednesday, many of them coming from the recommendations of study committee that met since last fall.

The House advanced one piece of legislation Wednesday afternoon, with a committee approving a proposal that would direct the State Board of Education to accept the national certification of a school psychologist to issue a state license for the person in that field in North Carolina. The measure, recommended by a House school safety study panel, is designed to address several dozen school psychologist vacancies in the state. House floor debate on the bill is scheduled Thursday.

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